Here’s what I have to say about the past:
“The eternal silence of those infinite spaces fill me with dread.”
That’s Pascal. That’s the guy my brother Bill said
made a bet there was a God in case there was. If not,
what could you lose? Bill’s not my real brother,
understand. He goes by another name, and I have my own,
we met once and never seemed to stop the conversation
in spite of the years that fill the gulf between mothers.
But I’m not here to talk about Bill
The past is a very lonely country. No one lives there
who wouldn’t rather be here.
The way you find brothers is to be alive.
You feel the vacancy of a life
that came before you. That was the first one,
the one whose death your mother mourned.
When brothers die they don’t stop being brothers.
John was the one who came after Jim.
Jim died because he didn’t sleep driving his car.
Not once, but twice. I’m not talking about him,
as I say he will always be a brother,
as will John, who shot himself in the cerebellum.
John painted in L.A. off Wilshire, in a one-room
studio. He came to see Paula and me
in the town where he was born and came of age
before he went to Brooklyn to study with Ruben Tam
and then Tokyo, Kyoto, finally home
after years of loving one woman he lost somehow,
but as long as he could paint he was okay. He could show
when he called–he had no phone–and they said the gallery
was free then, bring your–whatdyacallem?–Space Slicers?–
and set them up for the exhibit a week from Saturday,
and he may have thought maybe it was all a lure,
his paintings a lie, his life a lie, he was no longer sure.
When Paula met him he was gaunt looking starved,
emaciated, you know.
Paula stayed home while John and I walked to town
and had a drink at Rico’s,
my watering hole. I said, Why don’t we three go to Mexico
this summer? He said, Why not Chile?
where his politics and mine converged.
Why not go where the big wound was about to be closed?
So that’s what happened. He came home,
went back to the City of Angels, and nothing came
of everything. He had thought he was onto something, art
Gene Youngerman and Ellsworth Kelly would validate.
of trying to show on the Islands, Honolulu, Tam’s home.
How in hell would he get there? Tam encouraged him
and wrote in his behalf and first thing you know
he had an offer from a gallery not far from Waikiki.
All he had to do was borrow the money to send his work.
He couldn’t find a patron. There was no end to such luck,
he must have thought. He shot himself. That’s all I know.
I drove south and then east to find out in Taos.
Howard, my elder brother, gave me the news.
I got as far as some bordertown, Tijuana maybe,
though I’d had my fill of it before.
Maybe Nogales, the one I preferred.
I never went through Brownsville, Texas was not my style,
San Antonio, Austin were okay,
but the rest of all that space I loathed.
I remember now, it was Ciudad Juarez I entered
half-drunk. They didn’t care,
I had a visa, a new car,
I got as far as Ciudad Chihuahua,
I passed the statue of Pancho Villa and looked
for a bar.
I forgot to tell you my drinking was why Paula was gone,
had been gone, would always be gone,
and so was John, but Paula was my reason
for never going as far as Santiago, Chile.
You know the rest of it if you’ve read this far.
I returned to San Francisco Bay
where I found Cathleen waiting in the same place
she was when I left.
She goes everywhere else there is to go with me.
She is my Magdalene, I her most recent sin.
She was always with me through all that infinite space
in my dreams of dread, those I had standing on two feet,
one foot and then the other.
(27 December 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander